“Karl Barth’s Pneumatology and the Global Pentecostal Movement” - A report on Christian T. Collins Winn's paper at the 2016 Princeton Barth Conference, by J. T. Young

[Ed. note: J. T. Young is an MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a graduate of the Lindenwood University Religion department. He attended the part of the 2016 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, currently underway at the time of writing, and sent in this report from the scene.]

The theme of the 2016 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary was “Karl Barth’s Pneumatology and the Global Pentecostal Movement.” One of the speakers at the conference was Christian T. Collins Winn, Professor of Historical Theology at Bethel University and contemporary theology’s authoritative voice on the Blumhardts: the 19th century father-and-son German pietist pastor-theologians who would become extremely important in the development of the young Karl Barth in his years as a pastor in Safenwil, Switzerland from 1911-1921.

Collins Winn offered a paper titled “Barth, Pentecostalism, and the Cry for the Kingdom” in which he laid out a comparative study of prayer in Barth and Pentecostalism. His paper was composed four parts. In the interest of time, Collins Winn summarized the first part, “Barth, Pentecostalism, and Eschatology,” into three concise theses:
  1. Both Barth and Pentecostal theologians agree that eschatology is not just a doctrine of last things.
  2. Pentecostal theologians and historians are rejecting dispensational pre-millennialism.
  3. The ongoing revision of eschatology in Pentecostal theology is a dialogue, primarily with Moltmann, Wesley, and Fletcher, but Barth is not absent.

The second part of Collins Winn’s paper, “Thy Kingdom Come: Barth on the Cry of the Kingdom,” sought to discuss Barth’s concept of prayer. Collins Winn took as his primary focus in this section Barth’s idea of the Christian life as a history of invocation. He went on to discuss two dialectical concepts in Barth’s theology:
  1. Jesus Christ as the “immanent Kingdom of God” and “telos of all things” and
  2. the participatory action required of the Christian community in praying the second article of the Lord’s Prayer.
Attention is also given here to Barth’s idea of “hastening-and-waiting” as the Christian community both strives toward the Kingdom of God and experiences “penultimate bursts of the kingdom in history.”

The paper’s third section, “Sighs too Deep for Words: Pentecostal Tongues and the Coming of the Kingdom,” gives special attention to the current work of Frank Macchia, who happened to be in attendance at Collins Winn’s presentation. Here, Collins Winn discusses Macchia’s work on glossolalia and its origin in a trinitarian pneumatology. Macchia went on to praise Collins Winn’s understanding of his work, saying that the key question for Macchia is whether or not, for Barth, Pentecost is determinative for Christology.

Collins Winn’s final section, “Conclusion: Barth, Pentecostalism, and the Ecstasy of Revolt,” offered final thoughts on the differing emphases between Barth and contemporary Pentecostalism: Barth’s Christocentrism and Pentecostalism’s trinitarian pneumatology. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, for Barth, is the divine decision to break into the current day and set free the captives and the eccentric life of prayer, of invocation, is nothing other than the constant crying for the Spirit to be outpoured anew.

Collins Winn’s work here has opened an important door in Barth studies and Pentecostal theology. As Barth’s dogmatic task remains unfinished and his pneumatology fragmentary at best, Collins Winn has helped provide a way forward. As this conversation continues, Collins Winn’s voice will not be able to be ignored, nor will his excellent analysis undertaken in this study.



Reading Church Dogmatics a second time, I have been slowly seeing that Barth's pneumatology may not be as fragmentary as I thought. In particular, his discussion in volume 4 is relatively strong, as the Holy Spirit brings the truth of reconciliation-atonement into our communal and individual life. I think the length of CD makes it difficult to see in a coherent way the role of the Holy Spirit in Barth. The obvious unfinished character in the missing doctrine of redemption also hinders this. In my reading of Pentecostal thought, I would think the close connection that Barth made to the Trinity and to Christology in terms of his view of the role of the Holy Spirit would be a problem for traditional Pentecostal theology.

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